Filing a patent online is the most convenient way to patent your invention. A patent serves the important purpose of ensuring that no other party will be legally allowed to produce, sell, or use your creation for a certain amount of time. Before you apply for a patent, you should perform searches to make sure that your invention is patentable.

Steps in Filing a Patent

Step 1: Search the Website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

The USPTO is the government department that issues patents. Use the patent search engine on its official website to find out whether or not your idea or invention is already patented.

Begin your search using broad keywords that represent the category, niche, or industry that your creation belongs to. After that, you can add keywords that specifically describe the novel aspects of your invention. It is important to know exactly what makes your product or idea novel. You can determine this by comparing your invention's features with the descriptions found in the references cited in the original patent. While you are conducting searches, you should consider using plurals, abbreviations, synonyms, and spelling variations. Make sure you save your search strings in case you need to do the same searches again.

Step 2: Hire a Patent Attorney

An experienced attorney can help you complete your patent application more efficiently and avoid mistakes than can be potentially costly.

Step 3: Determine the Right Type of Patent

The USPTO grants three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. We will discuss the first two types here.

A utility patent serves to protect a useful invention. As an inventor, you are only allowed to obtain a utility patent for certain kinds of inventions. Generally, you cannot get a utility patent for an unmodified natural product, abstract idea, or algorithms that do not have useful applications in the real world. If you apply for a utility patent, you have to wait two to five years for the USPTO to respond and longer for it to issue a patent. You must submit a well-formatted written description of your invention that includes claims, any applicable drawings, and other formalities.

A design patent protects the ornamental design of an invention. It does not cover any functional benefit that comes with the design. The USPTO grants a design patent within one to two years of the filing date. You are required to include examples of the ornamental design, drawings, or photos in your application.

Step 4: Apply for a Provisional Patent

A provisional patent gives you some protection in case other people claim that they came up with your idea before you did. Applying for a provisional patent is an easier first step to filing a utility patent, because it requires fewer formalities. You can easily do it yourself at the USPTO website or hire an online service to do it for you. A provisional patent is only temporary; you must file a non-provisional application within 12 months.

Step 5: Register as an eFiler

Although you can submit your patent application via mail or fax, the easiest way to do it is to apply online at the USPTO. Register as an eFiler at the site and read the latest filing resources to find out what your application should include.

Step 6: Collect All the Necessary Information for the Formal Application

When you are submitting a formal patent application, you are required to prepare a specification that includes the following:

  • background
  • abstract
  • summary
  • detailed description
  • conclusion, including the scope and ramifications

Additionally, you should include a clear definition of the legal scope of the patent. Unless you are sure that you can do this on your own, it is advisable that you work with an experienced patent lawyer.

Step 7: Complete the Formal Application

On average, the USPTO takes one to three years to process a patent application. You do not want your application to be rejected for simple mistakes or unnecessary errors, so you should try your best to get it right the first time.

Step 8: Be Active in the Patent Process

The USPTO will assign a patent examiner to handle your application. If you receive any request or correspondence from him or her, you should respond as soon as possible. Bear in mind that the patent examiner will contact your attorney if you have one. In this case, you should check for updates regularly.

If you need an attorney's help to file a patent online, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of experienced lawyers to its site, and they come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law.